NR 19-008: Wolf Creek Dam increasing releases to historic levels

Published Feb. 22, 2019
Wolf Creek Dam spills on the Cumberland River in Jamestown, Ky., Feb. 22, 2019. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District operates and maintains the project. (USACE photo by Misty Cravens)

Wolf Creek Dam spills on the Cumberland River in Jamestown, Ky., Feb. 22, 2019. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District operates and maintains the project.

JAMESTOWN, Ky. (Feb. 22, 2019) – With Lake Cumberland approaching its pool of record, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District is planning to step up releases at Wolf Creek Dam to historic levels, with potential flooding in low-lying areas downstream.

Water managers at the Nashville District headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., said Wolf Creek Dam is currently discharging water at a rate of 36,200 cubic feet per second, but plan to increase to 40,000 cfs as early as Sunday, and 45,000 cfs 24 to 48 hours after that. The largest amount of water ever released from the dam is 40,000 cfs in January 1974.

“We are working directly with state officials to inform the public downstream that a significant amount of water will be released in a controlled manner from Lake Cumberland to lower the pool,” said Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, Nashville District commander.  “The ground is saturated and the heavy rainfall upstream has led to a much greater inflow into the lake than we’ve been releasing at the dam. These increases are necessary because the lake is quickly filling up, and increasing releases in a controlled manner now reduces the likelihood of even greater releases being required in the future.”

Minor impacts to low lying areas near the river, especially in the Cumberland River reach in Kentucky from Rowena to Burkesville are expected from these record high releases from Wolf Creek Dam.

The designated downstream control point for Wolf Creek Dam is Celina, Tenn.  Wolf Creek, in conjunction with Dale Hollow Dam, is operated to maintain the river stage in Celina at or below 25 feet.  Action stage at Celina is 35 feet and flood stage is 40 feet. 

Despite zero releases from Dale Hollow Dam on the Obey River near Celina, Tenn., the stage at Celina is currently forecast to reach 32.9 feet this weekend.  The Corps is pursuing a deviation from its authorized water control plan to temporarily raise this control flow target of 25 feet at Celina because of the pressing need to regain storage in Lake Cumberland.  The Corps will carefully balance downstream flooding concerns with storage remaining in Lake Cumberland, but the stage at Celina will remain elevated and above its control flow target for many weeks. 

Following the impacts from this weekend's rainfall leading to the projected crest of 32.9 feet, the stage will stay elevated around 29 or 30 feet.  The Ohio River Forecasting Center of the National Weather Service is the agency responsible for issuing river stage forecasts.  The forecast for Celina is available at

Jerry Breznican, Nashville District Emergency Management chief, said the Corps of Engineers is working with state officials to communicate with land owners downstream and to get the word out about these increases for public safety.

“We are coordinating with the Louisville District Emergency Management Operations Center and they are in turn communicating with Kentucky Emergency Management,” Breznican said.

Residents can contact emergency managers for Russell County at 270-343-1408, Clinton County at 606-387-9163, Campbell County at 859-635-1111, and Wayne County at 606-348-3302 for more information about the increased releases at Wolf Creek Dam.

Michael Dossett, director of Kentucky Emergency Management, said, “Kentucky officials are asking that everyone remain vigilant during these flooding conditions and continue to monitor the developing high water issues.”

The current elevation of the lake is 748.26 feet. A total of 66 percent of the flood control pool is currently being utilized. 

Anthony Rodino, Nashville District Water Management Section chief, explained that the Nashville District has to increase releases at this point in an effort to regain storage in the reservoir.

The flood control pool at Lake Cumberland spans elevations 723 to 760, which allocates 2,094,000 acre feet of storage in the pool and allows for storage of 6.78 inches of rainfall runoff from the 5,789 square-mile watershed.  The current elevation at Lake Cumberland is the highest observed since the pool of record of 751.69 in May 1984.

The water management plan designates Celina, Tenn., as the downstream control point. The flow at Celina, which is made up of discharges from Wolf Creek Dam and Dale Hollow Dam, as well as the 583 square miles of uncontrolled watershed below the dams, is normally maintained at or below 40,000 cfs. However, current circumstances require the Corps of Engineers to go beyond normal operating levels and make the necessary larger releases.

For more information about how the Nashville District operates the Cumberland River Reservoir System, see the Water Management Education Series at

As necessary, news and information regarding water management and flood operations will be made available on the district’s website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at

Bill Peoples
Lee Roberts

Release no. 19-009